Is California ready for a new state park?
Gov. Gavin Newsom has budgeted $20 million to create California’s first new state park in a decade, a proposal that was greeted with bipartisan support. But with the park system facing a billion-dollar maintenance backlog, how can the state ensure that the beaches are clean, the toilets flush and some two million archaeological specimens are in safe hands?
It’s a fair question, with a long backstory. The governor’s proposal is more than just a line item: It is a vote of confidence that an agency embroiled in controversy eight years ago is capable of running the state’s 280 parks. It’s been a long road back from when the Department of Parks and Recreation was under fire for mismanagement and faulty accounting.
“We needed to earn back the trust of the public, of decision-makers within the administration and of our own staff,” said Parks Director Lisa Mangat. “It’s been a hard lift.”
Land acquisition has been on the decline, and conservationists say the timing to add a new park is perfect: State officials say they are ready to take on the task of transforming a bucolic landscape into a historical tableau that tells a story of California’s past.
“It’s a big deal to secure and run a new state park. We haven’t had this type of opportunity in such a long time,” Mangat said. “We are proud. It’s an indication of a pivot, and vote of confidence. We are thrilled.”
Enter the N3 Ranch. Some conservation groups and elected officials have long coveted the cattle ranch’s 80 square miles of wilderness in the Bay Area’s backyard.
While state officials are mum about specifics of the land under consideration for the new park, speculation has centered on the 50,000acre ranch, a parcel of undulating oak woodlands draped across four counties, fanning out in the hills above Livermore.
“It’s a pristine property for wildlife and recreation within a few bus stops of millions of people,” said Sen. Steve Glazer, an Orinda Democrat. “This is a target of opportunity that may never come again in our lifetime. A parcel of this size and ecological value — it’s stunning. While there are deep needs in the parks system, we have to move when the opportunity is there.”
Conservation groups are raising millions to help the state purchase the ranch, which is on the market for more than $70 million. At some point, the legislature might be asked to allocate more money to acquire the land. The condition of the land is unknown.
“It’s the beginning of the budget dance,” said Guillermo Rodriguez, state director of the nonprofit Trust for Public Land, which has raised money for the project. “State parks has done a tremendous job of turning around their operation. They are in a good position to get back into the acquisition program. Californians are demanding more parks access.”
The state would be taking on additional costs when it already has $1.1 billion in maintenance projects deferred due to lack of funding. California’s expansive park system includes beaches, lighthouses, lakes, monuments, archaeological sites, museums and ghost towns.
The parks department has a to-do list of nearly 4,000 projects, some familiar to homeowners: painting, plumbing, weed control and roof repair. Other jobs are unique, such as $10 million to replace lifeguard towers, $24 million to shore up a road at Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, $16 million to repair and replace coastal access stairways at Carlsbad State Beach and $1,972 to stabilize vintage fabric on a historic sofa at Will Rogers State Historic Park.
Mangat said the department keeps chipping away at the backlog, which she acknowledged is “significant.” Of the 400 new employee positions the parks department was recently awarded, “the largest numbers went to maintenance,” Mangat said.
A nearly 51,000acre property that spans four Bay Area counties could become the state’s newest state park.